Ever since it first rocketed past its initial $950,000 Kickstarter goal in just eight hours to become one of the most successful projects in the crowdfunding platform's history, the OUYA has been turning heads. A small, cheap and sleekly designed console that promises to wed the disparate worlds of mobile and console gaming and disrupt a deeply entrenched industry dominated by heavyweights like Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo, the OUYA's potentially quixotic ambitions have also raised many a gamer's eyebrows.
The $99 price tag seemed too low for a full-fledged gaming console. And judging by some of the early press, the OUYA hasn't yet managed to convince gamers otherwise. But whether the OUYA lives up to all of its hype and speculation, do gamers really want another television-based console experience as more of the industry shifts toward mobile and more futuristic alternatives like virtual reality?
With the OUYA's launch finally under way this week, NBC News talked to the console's creator, Julie Uhrman, about the device's present and future possibilities.
I'm curious about the timing of the OUYA's launch. Was it important to you to get this device out and get it out a couple of months before the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 come out?
The one thing that's unique about the OUYA — unlike any other really consumer electronic product I've ever seen, let alone a next-generation console — is that OUYA is neverfinal. We feel incredibly good about the product that's going on the market, but it's going to get better. The (user interface) is going to continue to evolve, we're gonna add additional features and functionality, social features, parental controls. We're gonna localize OUYA so we can distribute it further than just English-speaking territories. And it's going to continue to evolve while also taking the feedback and support of our gamers and developers. So this is just the end of the end of the first chapter of OUYA, and then we move into the next one. It's not about the time of year; it's just the right time for the product.
In February, you told another interviewer that you would like to see the OUYA adopt a manufacturing or business model similar to the one for mobile devices—putting out a new OUYA model once a year. Is that still the case?
We're gonna have a much more frequent refresh rate than the traditional console market. We leverage readily available chips — the Nvidia Tegra chip, to be specific. We're going to continually push the processing power and make better chips and put them on the marketplace so OUYA developers can take advantage of them.
We will be thoughtful, however, about when we create a new product and when we launch it to market because, first and foremost, we want to make sure that there are enough developers and enough games that are optimizing the content for these chips. At some point, we will start moving towards: Is there a way to improve the hardware to give a better experience for gamers? And if yes, when is the right time to do that? With hardware, unlike software, you can't turn on a dime. You can't make a decision today and have it impact your audience a month later, three months later, even six months later.
Will each successive OUYA model cost the same amount? I wonder if the OUYA would necessarily remain the more frugal alternative to, say, the PlayStation or Xbox consoles. Fivehundred dollars might seem like a lot for a new console, but itlasted almost a decade for the last generation of consoles. At $99 a year over the course of seven or eight years, the OUYA could potentially outpace next-generation hardware.
We will always have a $99 shoe in the marketplace. But my goal — and I've always said this — is to provide the hardware as inexpensively as we can. We want gamers to have a low barrier to entry to get into the console so they can try out new developers and new types of games and play things that they never thought they might be interested in, because everything is free to try! So even with the new hardware, if I can find a way to sell it at less than $99, I will. We want to try to make the entry point as low as possible.
When we speak about disruptions in the modern console industry, a lot of the other new products or proposals have focused more on changing things like the basic interface of gaming—say, the Oculus Rift, which uses a headset rather than a television screen—rather than its business model. Have you thought at all about different types of controllers or interfaces that could be added to the OUYA eventually?
We made OUYA to be open because the creativity of many is significantly greater than the creativity of a few. We only have a team of over 30 people; we want the world to make OUYA better. By making it compatible with mobile devices — and we're already starting to see that since we have it Bluetooth enabled for games like "You Don't Know Jack" that can pair iOS devices to it. By making it hackable ... you can open it with four standard hex screws on the top. People can sync their PlayStation and Xbox controllers to the OUYA, which creates a multiplayer experience in their living room once they've bought the standard unit. We even have people in GitHub giving us examples of leaderboards and skins and backgrounds to be utilized for OUYA.
I'm looking forward to the cool new peripheral or accessory that's made. If our audience can make something better and faster than we can, we will absolutely use it.
Yannick LeJacq is a contributing writer for NBC News who has also covered technology and games for Kill Screen, The Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic. You can follow him on Twitter at @YannickLeJacq and reach him by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.